Donor (1988)

low red blood cell count

The knock at the front door brought Tim back from his woolgathering excursion. He drew in a deep breath and held it a long moment to quell the anxious feeling hatching in the pit of his belly. Padding across the hardwood foyer floor on the balls of his feet, he hoped against hope that Death was on the other side of the door. He knew this wasn’t the case. The knock was too polite.

They’re all so damned polite, the knockers. Lightly rapping on his door all day, all night, in any weather, even on holidays. Especially the holidays. On the other side of the door, this time was a familiar face. Too plain to recall outright, Tim had to flip through the card catalog in his mind and play the reference game. An event that led to a location that led to a person.

Fundraiser ~~> community center ~~> Dick Cole.

And this was Dick’s friend. Linda something-or-other. Rhymes with seed. Greed? Mead? Plead?

“Reid, isn’t it? Linda Reid.” Tim smiled, more at the swiftness of the connection than pleasure in seeing the woman. “It’s been a while. Couple of years, I think.”

Tim gestured for Linda to step inside. Too many prying eyes on them from the people lined up at his doorstep. A line that ran the length of his front walk to the pavement, down the block, and most likely around the corner. All ages, ethnicities, men and women alike, everyone patiently waiting their turn for an audience.

“It has been,” Linda said, smiling a bit too much. “Sorry for not keeping in touch. Things have been so hectic down at the center with budget cuts and understaffing… and other things, that I don’t socialize much anymore. And you’ve got a lot on your hands at the moment—”

Tim waved off the rest of the sentence. “Not an accusation, just a statement of fact.” He led the woman into the sitting room. “Can I get you anything? Water? Juice? Or I could put the kettle on?”

“Do you have anything stronger?” Linda asked sheepishly as she sat down.

“I don’t imbibe, I’m afraid. Rules of my employment and all.”

“Yes, of course, how foolish of me.”

Tim sat opposite Linda and poured two glasses of ice water from a silver pitcher dotted with dew-like condensation. “Not to fret. Most people never consider it the first time they sit in that chair.

She took the water glass and swallowed two gulps. “So, how does this go? Do I have to fill out an application? Sign a legal document? Do you need proof? I didn’t think to bring any with me but I can get whatever it is you need.”

“If your request is granted, you’ll need to sign a few documents, including one that absolves me of any blame should the outcome fail to have the desired effect.” he said automatically.

“Naturally, without a doubt,” Linda answered, a bit too eagerly.

They’re always so eager at this stage, before the harshness of reality sets in, Tim thought. “But for right now, all you have to do is tell me what brings you here.”

“Um, okay,” she adjusted herself in the seat and wondered how her breath could so suddenly get caught in her throat. “It isn’t for me, you understand, I’d never come to ask for myself. It’s my fiancé, Dick, you’ve met him, in fact, he introduced us at a fundraiser two years ago.”

“Yes, I know Dick. What’s wrong with him?”

“He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Linda said in a quiet voice.

“Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Tim’s stomach turned over. He didn’t need her to elucidate further.

She nodded, her eyes fading down to the throw rug, absently tracing patterns. “It’s in the late stages now. I would have come sooner, but it’s taken me some time to talk Dick into this. He doesn’t think it seems right. Not what you do, that’s fine and he thinks you’re a saint for doing it. He doesn’t think it’s right asking you for help, especially this kind of help. Dick doesn’t want you or anyone else taking pity on him. He’s never taken a handout in his life and he can’t help but see this as charity.”

“Yes,” Tim said, not bothering to hear the rest of the pitch. That’s what they were, pitches. Not simple requests or imploration, these were stories designed to pull at his heartstrings. But who ever bothered to listen to his story? Not one of them. Not a single person among the many that crossed his threshold ever bothered asking him a personal question. As if he wasn’t human, as if he wasn’t allowed his own tragedy.

“What? I don’t understand.” She set the glass down on the nearby table, missing the coaster by half an inch. Tim either hadn’t noticed or decided not to comment.

“I’m saying, yes.”

“Yes, you’ll help?” Linda blinked and met the man’s gaze as a hopeful smile began to split her face.

“Yes.”

“I — I don’t know what to say,” she was on her feet before she knew what was happening, moving in for a hug. “I — thank you, Tim!”

Tim put his hand up, stopping the woman in her tracks. “Don’t thank me yet. There are still a few things you need to realize before you accept my offer.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anything! And I mean anything!” Interest colored her face.

“Please calm down for a moment and listen to me. This thing you’re asking of me, this gift of blood, it may not solve your problems and could possibly worsen matters for you.” Tim traced his finger around the rim of his glass.

“I’ll take that chance… we’ll take that chance!”

“Listen to me!” Tim brought the glass down on the table, just hard enough to startle and capture her full attention. At the cost of a wet sleeve and the water stains that would surely mark the cherry wood. “Ever since scientists discovered the curative properties of my blood, tests have been run. Mostly successful, I’m a match for all blood types, and my white blood cells haven’t encountered a disease it can’t cure—”

“Which is why I came to you. I did my research and you cured other ALS patients before—”

“The problem isn’t my blood,” he interrupted. “It’s Dick’s immune system reaction that’s the danger. If his body rejects my blood and tries to attack parts of it, there won’t be a second chance. He instantly becomes a non-match. On the other hand, if his body takes the transfusion, in a few month’s time, his white blood cells will resemble mine and he’ll automatically be enlisted in the same line of work as I am.”

The weight of Tim’s words slowly settled on Linda. “You mean, he’ll—?”

“He’ll never know another moment’s peace for the rest of his life. People will hound him, pleading for themselves or family or friends, day and night, night and day. Nonstop. Some gentle, others less so.”

“But why is that necessary?” Linda asked.

“My white blood cells can’t be synthesized. Top minds have tried and failed time and again. And although my blood can be stored, the white blood cells lose their miraculous properties over a period of thirty-six hours outside my body.

“I would have been strapped to a table in a laboratory for the rest of my natural life if I wasn’t for my brother. Hell of a lawyer. Fought his ass off to petition the quality of life rights that allow me the tiny bit of freedom I have. The stipulation is I must share my gift, triage the world, help the sickest among you. There are restrictions, legal hours when people have the right to approach me, but no one listens. How can they be expected to follow the rules when they or their loved ones are dying?

“I used to fight it. Turn people away when the established workday was through. Dealt with the angry mobs and the death threats. Then I asked myself, “Why?” Why fight my fate? If I’m meant to help people, why shouldn’t I do it when it needs to be done and not only when I want to do it? And there’s a selfish reason if I’m honest. You see, if I help enough people, if enough of the populace possesses my blood, I won’t be special anymore or alone in all this. Maybe then, when there’s enough blood to go around and my bit for the world is done, the price of my gift paid, maybe then I can be left alone to die in peace.”

Linda hesitated. She shook her head and turned to leave. “This… this is… “ She stumbled over the words, not knowing how to express her thoughts.

Tim realized too late that he said too much, chose the wrong person to unburden himself on. He regretted his action instantly. “It’s a lot to process, I know. Why don’t you go home and discuss it with Dick? You can contact me if you decide to go through with it.”

From his shirt pocket, he fished out a solid white business card, imprinted only with a faint phone number that had to be viewed at the proper angle in order to be seen. “A direct line, please don’t share it with anyone.”

“I won’t,” Linda muttered as she shambled to the doorway. “I — look, I know you can’t talk about the other people you’ve seen, but can you just tell me if anyone has ever turned down your help after you’ve explained everything to them?”

For a moment, Tim didn’t respond, he just watched as the hope drained from her face. “More people than you might imagine.” He noted she found no reassurance in his answer. He turned away, unable to look upon her sorrow any longer. He had his own to contend with.

Over his shoulder, he said, “On your way out, can you send the next person in, please?”

©1988 & 2016 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

19 Habits of Happy Writers (you don’t really want to be miserable all your life, do you?)

http://rhyscorhys.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/b4784-happytypewriter.jpg

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” — Dalai Lama

As writers, it’ll come as no shock to any of you when I say my mood largely affects my writing. When I slide into the dark places, although I attempt to slog my way through the anguish and negativity that gets so thick sometimes as to suffocate me, my writing naturally suffers.

This post stems from an article I read recently on a Swedish study that suggested writers have a higher risk than the general population of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also about twice as likely to commit suicide.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to head this off at the pass. So, below are a few suggestions to help you live a happier existence, broaden your horizons, create a positive environment in which to write, and hopefully bring energy and verve into your projects:

1. Appreciate Life

Be thankful that you beat the odds and woke up alive this morning, some folks weren’t as lucky as you. Develop a childlike sense of wonder towards life and focus on the beauty of things. Learn to make the most of each day, and stop taking things for granted. And definitely don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s small for a reason.

2. Choose Your Friends Wisely

Do your best to surround yourself with happy, positive people who share your values and goals. Friends that have the same ethics as you will encourage you to achieve your writing dreams. They help you to feel good about yourself and are good for a morale boost when needed.

3. Be Considerate

Accept and respect others for who they are as well as where they are in life. With a generous spirit, help when you’re able, without trying to change the person. As a rule, you should try to brighten the day of everyone you come into contact with. Especially the difficult ones.

4. Learn Continuously

Try new and daring things to spark interests, gain experience, and that you can bring back into your writing.

5. Develop Creative Problem Solving Skills

Stop wallowing in self-pity as soon as you face a challenge and instead get busy finding a solution. Don’t let set backs affect your mood, instead see each new obstacle you face as an opportunity to make a positive change. Learn to trust your gut instincts – it’s almost always right.

6. Laugh Lots

Stop taking yourself – or life for that matter — so damned seriously. You can find humor in just about any situation, so learn to laugh at yourself, because, let’s face it, nobody’s perfect. When appropriate, laugh and make light of the circumstances. (Naturally there are times that you should be serious as it would be improper to laugh. Try not to that person.)

7. Forgive!!!

Holding a grudge hurts no one but you. Forgive others for your own peace of mind. When you make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it, and forgive yourself.

8. Be Grateful

Develop an attitude of gratitude by learning to count your blessings; All of them, even the things that seem trivial. Be grateful for your home, your work and most importantly your family and friends.

9. Invest in Relationships

Always make sure your loved ones know you love them even in times of conflict. Nurture and grow your relationships with your family and friends by making the time to spend with them. Don’t break your promises to them. Be supportive.

10. Keep Your Word

Honesty is the best policy. Every action and decision you make should be based on honesty. Be honest with yourself and with your loved ones.

11. Meditate

Meditation gives your very active brain a rest. When it’s rested you will have more writing energy and function at a higher level. Whether it’s yoga, hypnosis, relaxation tapes, affirmations, visualization or just sitting in complete silence, find something you enjoy and make the time to practice daily.

12. Mind Your Own Business

Concentrate on creating your life the way you want it and take care of you and your family. Don’t get overly concerned with what other people are doing or saying. Don’t get caught up with gossip or name calling. Don’t judge. Everyone has a right to live their own life the way they want to – including you.

13. Be Optimistic

See the glass as half full. Find the positive side of any given situation. It’s there – even though it may be hard to find. Know that everything happens for a reason, even though you may never know what the reason is. Steer clear of negative thoughts. If a negative thought creeps in – replace it with a positive thought.

14. Love Unconditionally

Don’t put limitations on your love, even though you may not always like the actions of your loved ones – continue to love them.

15. Be Persistent

Never give up. Face each new challenge with the attitude that it’ll bring you one step closer to your goal. You’ill never fail, as long as you never give up. Focus on what you want, learn the required skills, make a plan to succeed and take action. As humans, we’re always happiest while pursuing something of value to us.

16. Be Proactive

Accept what can’t be changed. Happy writers don’t waste energy on circumstances beyond their control. Accept your limitations as a human being. Determine how you can take control by creating the outcome you desire – rather than waiting to respond.

17. Take Care of Yourself

Take care of your mind, body and health. Get regular medical check ups. Eat healthy and work out. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of water. Exercise your mind by continually energizing it with interesting and exciting challenges.

18. Build Self Confidence

Don’t try to be someone you’re not (no one likes a phony). You know who you are on the inside so be confident with that, do the best you can manage and don’t second guess yourself.

19. Take Responsibility

Happy writers know and understand that they are 100% responsible for their life. They take responsibility for their moods, attitude, thoughts, feelings, actions and words. They are the first to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

And there you have it. Simple, common sense suggestions to help you take responsibility for your own happiness. I realize that some of these are easier said than done, but could it really hurt to try to work on developing at least a few of these habits as you own? Who knows, the more you incorporate the above habits into your daily lifestyle, the happier you could be.

Being gifted with creativity comes at a price, but it doesn’t have to be a terrible one.

Sally forth and be true to yourself writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Tin of Snow

Tin of snow

Tins were a wonderful thing to me. They were a depository where the things a boy kept precious could be secreted away and tucked into the backs of closets or under loose floorboards. Mostly the contents of tins included stamps, coins, marbles, smooth and colorful stones and the bits of refuse that could viewed as treasure to the furtive imagination of a young mind.

I collected snow.

Not just any snow, mind you—-I wasn’t some type of frozen vapor hoarding lunatic—-I collected the flakes from the first snow fall and packed little rectangular bricks in the back of the freezer. Why? Because of Frosty the Snowman who came to life after being imbued with the magical properties of first fall snow. But I wasn’t going to build some ratty old snowman, no sir, not me. My goals were slightly loftier than that.

I was going to build a griffin. Agrippa the Griffin.

I’d be the envy of my neighborhood when Agrippa and I went for a walk, and since I read somewhere how griffins have the ability to sense and dig gold up from the earth, I knew we’d be financially sorted for life. And we would totally rule the airways. That went without saying.

Yup. I saw it all clear as day and my plan was foolproof. I traced pictures from books in the New York Public Library so I’d know how to sculpt Agrippa accurately, and knowing he’d be curious about his heritage, I constructed a fascinating family history that would have made any newly birthed mythological creature proud.

As I collected tins of first snow and carefully hid them in the freezer, I knew the world was finally mine and I was destined to live the most incredibly awesome life ever imagined, and nothing could have prevented it…

Until I discovered the hard way that refrigerators came equipped with a thaw feature. All my carefully stacked magically imbued briquettes had been reduced to not-so-magical freezer run-off that dripped impotently into a catch tray.

Needless to say, I have yet to bring Agrippa into existence. And life, well, it hasn’t quite reached that most incredibly awesome high water mark yet.

But where there’s hope…

In the meantime, sally forth and be Merry Griffinmasly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Of Air Returned (1988)

images

i.

I burned my soul to ash but the pain paled in comparison to the terror that struck my heart like a match, anticipating her arrival and the tirade she would carry in tow. An unwarranted fear, as she was calm when she saw what I had done. Calm and nurturing. Soothing my pain with herbs and aromas, and each early morning during the hour of the wolf, she laid an ear on my back and listened as my soul mended itself.

She never spoke the words of disappointment aloud but it registered in her eyes. Although residing within my body, this wounded thing, this unwanted soul, did not belong to me. She had laid claim to it many years past, and in my despondency, I had taken liberties with her property and attempted to destroy it. Again.

ii.

The first time, I threw my soul into a sinkhole and allowed the ground to swallow it whole. I made her acquaintance when she plucked it from the soil like a tattered tuber. “I saw what you did,” she said. “And since you would so recklessly toss this precious thing away, it is no longer yours, but mine, agreed?” I nodded and she handed my soul back to me for safe keeping.

I honored our pact for a few years, caring for it within my limited capacity, but during a particularly nasty bout of depression, I tied heavy stones to my soul and pushed it off the sea wall. For a second time, she appeared, fishing my soul from the waves and scolded me, “You are charged with protecting this thing that is mine, do you understand?” Again, I nodded. Again, I lied.

iii.

“Why do you want this worthless soul when it has been crushed by the earth? Why do you want it when it has been drowned in the sea? Why do you want it when it has been set aflame like so much tinder?” I searched long and hard yet found no answer in her silence.

iv.

During the day, when she thought me preoccupied, she secreted herself in the shadows and slept. One day I followed her into the darkness and watched her body twitch from dreaming and listened as she muttered,

One more soul, once buried deep.
One more soul, in ocean steeped.
One more soul, by fire burned.
One more soul, of air returned.

v.

Under her care, my soul grew healthier and it frightened me. I was pitilessly plagued and badgered by the phrase, One more soul, of air returned, that repeated in my mind’s ear until it turned dogged and cacophonous. But she was unaware of my inner torment, in fact, she was in an exceptionally good mood today, her voice almost a song, “I know you don’t see it, but you are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

vi.

Today was the day. I felt it in my marrow. Something was destined to happen, something I most likely would not survive. I should have embraced this eerie premonition, for it was no secret that I did not want to continue in this manner, broken, detached and alone. But the choice of how and when I departed this wretched life was mine to make and mine alone. So, I stalled by distracting her with trivialities. “May I have more broth? Have you seen my shoes? No, not that pair, the other ones? Can we go for a walk?” If she knew my plan, her expression never showed sign. No request was too large or small on this day. She granted them all.

vii.

We strolled along the pathway in the park that led to the duck pond, a place we visited often during my convalescence. Picked, naturally, as not to arouse suspicion as I searched for the proper diversion in order to make my escape. But I was so wrapped in my own thoughts, I failed to notice that she was walking slower than usual today. “Can we rest a moment?” she asked as we neared the benches. “I am a little short of breath.”

Her breathing became a labored and raspy thing before it hitched and became lodged in her throat. When her face went dusky blue and she slid off the park bench, I panicked. The opportunity had presented itself and there I stood like an idiot, frozen. Entangled in the decision of whose life to save, or more accurately, whose death I could live with.

There was no real choice.

viii.

Her breathing was a trembling, liquid sound as I pressed my mouth to hers and exhaled, but instead of me breathing air into her body, I felt her sucking air from my lungs, and not just air…

I tried desperately to pull away but her thin, vise-like hands clamped down on the nape of my neck and held me firm in a kiss that was collapsing me. My hold on life became dim and futile, but before I slipped away into emptiness, I noticed the oddest thing: her belly began to swell.

Every fiber of my actuality was drawn into her, and my soul, the object I had forever been so reckless with, was systematically being stripped of concern, of negativity, of identity. I fell further and further into a darkness that pressed on me from all sides. So tight, so constricted. I was still unable to breathe but the sensation was somehow different now.

At the very moment when it seemed the darkness was about to claim me for eternity, there came a burst of light so bright as to cut my eyes. Thankfully something soon blotted out the light – a face, slowly coming into focus but I knew her before I saw her. From the moment I heard her soft cooing, “You are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

Mother.

©1988 & 2016 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

11 Things Every Writer Needs to Know (More About You and Less About the Writing)

“Write like you’ll live forever — fear is a bad editor. Write like you’ll croak today — death is the best editor. Fooling others is fun. Fooling yourself is a lethal mistake. Pick one — fame or delight.” ― Ron Dakron

  1. Writing is a steep, uphill battle but it’s fierce and it’s beautiful and you’ll regret walking away from it before you’ve seen it reach its potential.
  2. New people, experiences and opportunities to write about won’t stop coming into your life but you need to make space for them. Reexamine all your current relationships, obligations and habits and if you find value in them, hold onto them tighter. If their value escapes you, it’s time to let something go.
  3. Resolve to be awesome for the rest of your life, starting right now. Just because.
  4. Writing goals are not reserved for January 1st. Get in the habit of setting them monthly, hell, even weekly. Set them so that you’re moving forward and always trying to progress. Your writing can grow stagnant without them. Beware.
  5. Confidence is an attractive thing. Readers dig it. Non-readers dig it. We all dig it.
  6. Negative people chip away at your spirit. Flush the toxins and get yourself into a better writing head space.
  7. And if you slag off another writer because their abilities fail to impress or interest you, maybe you’re on the road to toxicity. Peer relationships are too valuable to muddy with what you perceive to be the shortcomings of other writers. If you can’t find enjoyment in someone’s writing, don’t read it. Plain and simple.
  8. You’re human and as such you’re going to waste many hours focusing on who you aren’t, or who you want to secretly be. But you won’t ever wake up and magically become that person. You’ve got to embrace what you bring to the table. If you don’t like what that is, have the courage to change it.
  9. Regret is a very real thing. It’s going to happen to you at some point. Don’t hold onto things forever but learn from them and let the past go. The past will be a dictator if you let it.
  10. Yes, when we write we create worlds, but the world doesn’t revolve around us. Turns out we’re just punctuations in a much larger story littered with periods and commas and dashes. How are you helping that story to be better? How are you being the best punctuation you can be?
  11. Tech advancement is coming at us fast and furious and it’s all too easy to let an emoticon laden text do the talking for you, too easy to click a Like or +1 button instead of engaging people in an actual dialogue. Never lose sight of the beauty of a conversation where you can watch a person’s face express actual emotions. Let a person know that they are worth your words. They are worth your presence. They are worth more than just letters on a screen. Face to face connections are fading faster everyday. Please don’t let the machines win.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Personal Space

Staten Island Ferry arriving at night

“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The hawk was most definitely out tonight as I stood at the bow of the Staten Island ferry, coat collar popped and gloved hands thrust into pockets. This particular hawk bore a vicious set of teeth and wasn’t afraid to bite, which was fine by me. The colder weather combined with the icy wind that whipped off the bay afforded me some much-appreciated elbowroom, a concept that was foreign to most New Yorkers.

Being all alone out here wasn’t a problem. I had been alone most of my adult life. Alone in a crowded room. Alone in committed relationships. The people closest to me, those tenacious few who loved a challenge, were kept at an equidistant arm’s length.

Alone was my appetite.

Alone was my mantra.

Alone was my destiny.

Not too cold out tonight, is it?” The voice almost sent me out of my skin. There, suddenly beside me, was a woman bundled against the chill air, lips curled slightly in sarcasm. Right next to me. Within the boundaries of my personal space.

Not as cold as it could be,” I replied more out of reflex than want. What I wanted was a little privacy, to tend to my own affairs as other people on the ferry tended to theirs. It was part of the unspoken rule when you agreed to live in this city. You avoided eye contact and kept yourself to yourself.

I looked at her, this stealthy woman that took me totally unawares. A full foot shorter than me, pretty, petite, and what was the politically correct term for it? Middle Asian? I wasn’t too sure and felt naked without my local PC handbook to check for accuracy.

The immediate thing that came to mind wasn’t how stunningly attractive this woman was. My first thought was actually, Why are you talking to me? As a point of clarification, that was one of the things I admired about myself, whether it was my face or the vibe I gave off, people generally never felt the need to walk up and talk to me. Unless of course they were mentally challenged or capable—again I needed to consult the handbook—or nuts or out to start a fight with a stranger they mistakenly assumed was harmless. She was clearly none of those.

But the thought evaporated as suddenly as it appeared. She blurted out a simple statement of fact and I happened to be within earshot. Conversation over. Turn the page. But it wasn’t over. “Do you know who you are?” she asked without a discernible trace of an accent.

Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question. “What, like my name?

No, that is what you are called. I want to know if you had to describe yourself to an absolute stranger, what would you say?

Most likely? Nothing.” I admitted. “I’m not too fond of the question.

Really? What if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled politely, waiting.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

As much as I hated being manipulated in this fashion, I couldn’t allow anyone, not even this woman, the most un-New Yorkian person I had ever encountered, to think I was some heartless brute that would have allowed Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

And just so you know, we, the Nazis and I, aren’t accepting work in progress as a suitable answer, since we’re all works in progress until the moment we give up living.

Fair enough.” I nodded. It was one of those overused expressions that I couldn’t stand, just like thinking outside the box. I watched her with obvious suspicion and had half a mind not to answer, half a mind to walk away. Neither of those halves proved to be victorious.

I hadn’t the foggiest notion what came over me but words started spilling out of my mouth before I even realized I was speaking. “What I am is a pessimistic optimist, who believes love shouldn’t be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.

You must be a writer because that was corny and clumsily poetic,” she eyed me for a long moment. “But an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it. This time.

This time? Just who did this woman think she was?

Now it’s your turn,” I said. “Tell me something about yourself first. Anything. Start with where you’re from.

For the briefest instant, her expression took on a sadness that could only have belonged to reminiscence. “I was born and raised in India, longer ago than you would believe, but I have traveled all over, to places you probably do not even realize exist.

You’re probably right about that. Geography really isn’t my strong suit and I haven’t really traveled outside of the five boroughs.” I said, instantly embarrassed by my lack of worldliness. “So, what brings you to New York?

She remained quiet for a moment before answering. “I work for an organization, currently in a state of transition. Suffered drastic downsizing due to image problems and public opinion. My employer is in the midst of rebranding and taking on a new staff to suit the company’s new direction. You can say that I am one of many headhunters.

Talk about your artful dodge. You said a mouthful just now and told me absolutely nothing about what your organization does to make a profit.

I can tell you, but only if you really want to know because that information comes at a price.

Which is?” I asked.

Your undying loyalty.

I chuckled. “Of course.

Of course, you agree to my terms, or of course, as in a mockery?” she cocked an eyebrow my way. “We must be clear about this.

The latter, no offense.

I see.” She ran a hand through her hair to get it off her face. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves and hadn’t actually appeared to be cold, the more I thought about it. “You asked me what brings me to New York. Would you believe me if I said it was you?

I held up my hands in surrender. “All right, this is where I officially punch out of this conversation.

She took a step closer. “Your loneliness, your isolation is like a beacon to me. I am drawn to you. I know your kind. I have seen your future and you will most assuredly die alone. No mate, no children to carry on your legacy.

I hate to break it to you, but I’m happily married with three kids who adore me.

Not true in the slightest. You have lived alone ever since your cat died of leukemia two years ago.

How — how could you know that?

The same way I know the first girl to break your heart was Shirley Hartsdale in the sixth grade when she began dating your best friend behind your back and made you the laughing-stock of the school. To this day you hold a distrust of people because of that incident, even friends and family.

I hadn’t caught the last part of her sentence. My brain was flooded with thoughts of Shirley Hartsdale, someone I hadn’t thought of in years and even now, she left a bad taste in my mouth.

The organization I work for has that sort of information available to them, not solely on you but everyone on the planet.

Oh God, I started to panic. She’s a terrorist. Part of some ferry-riding Sleeper Cell that uses attractive women to pry information out of dumb single Americans. My photo was going to land in some Homeland Security dossier marked Al Qaeda Sympathizers. In that moment I just wanted this woman to be away from me. Far, far away.

I am not a terrorist,” she smiled. “Nor am I a member of a cult. What I am is a member of a peacekeeping task force that seeks to restore balance to the world with the help of people like you, the overlooked, the forgotten, the unloved. More than an organization, the company that employs me is my family and is directly descended from the first family ever to touch foot to the earth. It can become your family, as well.

What I can offer you is a love unparalleled.” She touched a finger to my temple and the wind died away. The air barely moved for several moments and I listened as she spoke. My world began spinning savagely. I winced and swallowed hard to prevent nausea from triumphing as her words poured images into my mind, saturated with so much sensory information and emotion that I thought I might have burst at the seams.

You will want for nothing. I will bear you many children and you will have a family the size of a small nation. A family who will worship and adore you. All this and more if you will simply pledge yourself to me forever and always.

She moved her finger away and the stillness of the air vanished, and the wind rose once more. I staggered a moment, my mind reeling with the imagery that pressed a palpable weight on me. When I regained my balance and sight, I stood there stunned and in comparative silence after being shown a world that only existed as the flimsiest of pipedreams. The reality finally hit that I was dealing with something way beyond me, something that threatened to swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful.

And you will be free to follow your dreams. Become a novelist and millions will read your words. You will be well received all around the world. Spend your days lecturing, even teaching and sculpting young minds, if that’s your wish.

Or,” she continued. “Write and direct films that interest you and your following will be massive. Fellini, Scorcese, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino, would not be able to hold a candle to you. Like Woody Allen and release a film each year, all guaranteed blockbusters with the stars of your choice eager to play a role.

And all this will happen because of you?

Her tone was like a knife. “No, because of your pledge to be with me and only me.

Like signing my soul over to you?” I knew the answer but had to ask anyway.

What an archaic notion. All I need from you is your promise, sealed with a kiss. The question is do you want to live the life you have always dreamed of living or not? After years of struggling and going unnoticed by women and society at large, you learned to wear your isolation like a protective shell but this isn’t who you truly are, who you were meant to be. If anyone deserves a shot at the brass ring it most certainly is you, isn’t it?

I had trouble meeting her eyes. “That’s tempting, it really is… but I can’t.

You would turn down everything?

I’m too old to believe I can have everything. And old enough to know I won’t be happy. Maybe at first, on the surface, I will, but as time goes by I’ll know deep down that I didn’t earn any of those things. You wouldn’t be with me because you love me. You’d be with me because you needed something from me. Something I’m not smart enough to figure out at the moment.” I felt foolish because I truly couldn’t see the angle. My soul wasn’t worth that much so there must have been something else.

And suddenly I was aware of the nearness of the woman and no longer thought she was in my personal space but that I was in hers and I worried about what being within her sphere of influence might do to me. I was afraid that her essence, the power she projected would have tainted me, marked and cursed me forever.

It seems I misjudged you. All that talk of accepting love as it finds you and erasing loneliness from the lexicon is all just a mask. Your problem is not being too old, it is being too afraid.

What?” my voice cracked as I felt a sudden pang of fear.

You are a dichotomy of fear. You are afraid of dying home alone, yet you fear leaving your house to meet a woman you can form a relationship with, you fear being friendless yet fear making friends, fear being childless yet fear the responsibility of having children, you fear being loved, fear being hated, you fear life and just about everything else and you are content to let it rot your soul as you waste away out of existence.

The wind rose in unison with the pitch of her voice and I was hit with a blast so icy it made my eyes water. I wiped the tears away and the woman was gone.

I went inside because I felt the sudden and dire need to be around other people, be close to them, feel their warmth. I settled down in a seat between two strangers, neither of them pleased that I had invaded their personal space, but I was past caring at that moment.

Looking down the opposite end of the ferry I saw the woman talking to a man, most likely another lonely bastard like me. I wanted to go over and warn him but he probably wouldn’t have believed me, and wasn’t it up to him to face his own temptations? Who’s to say that he wouldn’t have been within his rights to accept? And was I a fool for letting the opportunity to end my loneliness pass me by?

Then and there I made a promise to change my life, to put Shirley Hartsdale in perspective as I got on with my life and reconnected with old friends if it wasn’t too late and I pledged to make new friends and as I sought out the love I deserved and stopped waiting for it to come to me. Yes, that was what I was planned to do.

At least that was the lie I told myself.

* * *

Sally forth and be beautiful stranger avoidingly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

You’re Where You Are Because of Who You Are (but that ain’t necessarily a bad thing)

images

This one’s dedicated to the older crowd who aren’t quite sure they’re meant to be a writer, despite the deep down sense that urges them to touch pen to page. Doubt is a bastard of a beast that silently creeps in and builds its nest in your confidence and only rears its ugly head when you look at your writing and whispers, “You aren’t where you should be for someone your age. Maybe you’re just not good at it because a great writer–hell, even a competent one–would be further along by now, don’t you think?

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Writing doesn’t come with a sell by date and it doesn’t give a damn how long in the tooth you are. Don’t believe me? Do your research. In your info gathering you’ll no doubt discover that Laura Ingalls Wilder was 60 when she first published her “Little House” series, Raymond Chandler sold his first pulp crime short story at 45, Richard Adams was 50 when “Watership Down” went to press, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So, the question I put to you is, if they can do it, why can’t you as well?

The mere fact that you’re questioning yourself and your abilities probably means you’re meant to be a writer. And who knows, maybe the words you write will help change the world in some small way or impact the lives of your audience. And even if that isn’t the case, should you feel that something is missing and recognize that the world, in spite of its diversity and splendor, simply is not enough and that your dreams are so much bigger than the reality that surrounds you… why not write about it?

If the yearning is gnawing at your sanity, the onus is on you to hang your self-doubt on the coat rack (don’t worry, you can pick it up on your way out), stuff your excuses in an old cigar box, give perfectionism the night off, mine your soul for inspiration and when you hit a gold vein, start writing. And embrace what comes out. If it’s messy, let it be messy, or chaotic, or terrifying, just turn the editor off and keep moving forward. You’ll have plenty of time to edit your piece after you’ve finished writing it.

One last thing before I sign off, whenever I got myself into trouble and grounded as a kid, my mother used to say, “You’re where you are, because of who you are” and maybe that applies to you when it comes to writing. Perhaps you’re meant to be the age you are at this very moment, filled with your own unique life experiences, to start writing that project that’s been pestering you for so long.

So, push the ages of the recent crop of bestselling authors out of your mind and follow your calling. Comparing the fruits of their labor to your current lack of same is ridiculous (and frankly, their success is none of your business). All you can do is your best, so get to writing, will ya?

I wish you nothing but the very best of luck in completing your piece (and enjoy the process while you’re at it).

Sally forth and be agelessly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Savior Complex Part 2

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

…continued from Part 1

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

Gasoline on fire. He lost his mind and no manner of reason calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to get his kids and make her pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could have managed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect skin. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew than and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was sad.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor, punched and kicked me and I had no defense, I put my arms up but they blocked none of his attack.

He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.

I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to me feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy? And I told them to stop that, it wasn’t funny anymore, I’m not their father and the looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. And I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. The pair of us a newborn Lee and later with holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.

I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She tells them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and a something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what that was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things tomorrow, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after he got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Savior Complex Part 1

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do my shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Less people, less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane and out of the market. But something was wrong today. Tuesday? Yes. Early morning? Yes. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles crawled with miscreants of every variety. Attention deficit disordered shopping cart pusher that crashed into other carts and people with reckless abandon. Forsaken carts left in the middle of aisles blocking throughways. And cretins on checkout lines that were never properly prepared to simply pay for their items and go.

I contemplated turning around and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

Seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder length dreads and a disarming smile. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through the card catalog in my mind for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. Just heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smiled never wavered as she told me her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, nine and thirteen years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there, blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers, nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on my way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail of the guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t keen on the latter, but I wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company again. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it was done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was down hill after that, in terms of my personal discomfort, I meant. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected, and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children, in her family there was no place setting for me. It only lasted an instant but long enough for it to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santeria. I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth was that it scared a pert of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

It wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me the moment she clamped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding the fact. She came over to our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Santeria objects everywhere.

One day when I had come home early, I walked in on a Santeria ritual. Everyone clad in white, drummers, talking to the gods, played their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in the ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And there, in the center of the room, was Tatum’s mother, who looked at me like I was a burglar. She walked in ever expanding circles while smoking a cigar and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues.

I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, her mother’s spell actually worked. I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, a happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, faces in transition. I chalked it up to being over-tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as he talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum had arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

To Be Continued…

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License